Collaro is a name undoubtedly familiar to many as a prominent manufacturer of record changers throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The company was founded in 1920 by Turkish-born Christopher Collaro. The company’s first products were spring-driven gramophone motors, first advertised in around 1925. These were unique in that they were designed around a single-piece frame, so could be serviced with any one part replaced without interfering with the rest of the mechanism. Primarily sold wholesale to the trade, refinements in the 1930s brought more compact designs at lower cost, now affordable to the general public. Now based in a larger premises in Peckham, the 1930s saw Collaro begin manufacturing electric gramophone motors before being forced to relocate to Langley Mill in Derbyshire during World War Two when the area of the London factory was bombed.
With a stronger 2000-strong workforce The company was involved in munitions manufacture during the war, but resumed manufacture of its turntables and later tape decks in its new Essex factory after the war ended. Collaro was acquired by Magnavox in the 1960s, which merged with Philips in the 1970s. The Collaro Transcriptor and Studio open-reel mechanisms were incorporated in to many home machines of the time, and supported 7-inch reels which offered longer playing time and allowed for faster, better quality recordings over the more common 5.75-inch reels.
The mechanisms had three speeds, up to 7.5 IPS, which in combination with longer tapes meant the ability to increase the recording and playback speed for higher fidelity. Described in 1961 as the largest manufacturer of record changers in the UK, cost-cutting in home electrics lead to cheaper mechanisms from the likes of BSR and Garrard being more widely adopted.
Garrard and BSR pretty much had the monopoly on changers and single-play mechanisms by the end of the ‘60s, and by the mid to late ‘70s BSR was ahead thanks to their cheapened, simplified designs which found their way into everything from suitcase turntables to consoles, the latter fading into obscurity as Japanese firms rose to prominence producing affordable high-quality component turntables; and component systems, and later smaller all-in-one shelf systems took over. BSR’s changers were superseded by even cheaper single-play turntables, replicas of which can be found today in sub-£100 suitcase turntables from Crosley, GPO, Ion and countless others.
Under Philips’ ownership, the Collaro name faded into obsolescence until 2018 when Collaro Audio Ltd came onto the scene. Collaro Audio, hereafter Collaro for the sake of brevity, is a new British manufacturer keeping the Collaro ethos alive. The company currently markets a range of turntable mats and accessories, and the website proclaims ‘exciting’ products are in the pipeline. Both of the company’s mats – the Precision and the Tempest – retail for £99 from the company’s website.
So too does the Mercury record weight. Many record weights are machined from steel for its high mass. Steel, however, being a ferrous metal is extremely attractive to the magnets in a moving coil cartridge. The swift magnetic coupling of cartridge to weight will destroy a cartridge in short order; not to mention the premature wear, added noise and speed stability that can result from applying a significant extra mass to a turntable’s bearing. The Mercury is machined from high-grade aluminium to mitigate this issue. It is designed for use on non-suspended turntables and weighs a little over 360 grams; enough to flatten a warped disc to the platter, but not to cause undue bearing wear.
On the surface, the mat may appear to be an ordinary felt mat, albeit in an attention-grabbing red colour. In truth, the mat is made from a tightly woven cloth material. It’s heavier and denser than felt, yet still soft with a slight give when a record is atop it. The material maximises the surface contact between the record and platter, essentially filling the gap between the grooved surface and the platter that is caused by the slightly raised edge profile and centre label of most discs.
A felt mat does this too, but the Collaro mat does so to a far greater degree. The result is a tighter integration of the record itself as a component within the construct of the turntable as a means to measure the vibration within the groove. It does so while also providing adequate isolation from residual vibrations caused by the turntable’s drive system, though any good turntable should have measurable levels of rumble lower than the intrinsic surface noise of any record.
I tested the Precision mat on two turntables. My Technics SL-1200G and Project Glacier, a custom turntable with a Delrin platter. The stock mat of the Technics is a heavy rubber of a median 5 mm in thickness, though with a central label recess and further recesses in the surface to aid in lifting 7-inch records from the platter. The use of the rubber is partly to add further damping to the platter’s rubber / aluminium / brass layered construction. Given how the mat is machined, the record does not make contact with the mat across its entire grooved surface.
In contrast, the Delrin platter of Project Glacier was designed to be used without a mat. It too has a central label recess, and it has a machined rebate around the outer edge. This avoids the slightly raised edge profile of some records. The raised edge was a hallmark from the days when LPs would be stacked on record changers and would prevent the grooved areas of the records from ever touching. The intent was to prevent scratches occurring when the records were dropped and was largely a success, though significant dust buildup between any two records could still cause surface scratching, especially when more than 2 records were stacked. Aside from these features however the Delrin platter makes contact with the record across the entirety of the grooved area, bar perhaps the first 3 or 4 grooves at the outer edge.
In a design like Rega’s, the platter itself is perfectly flat. There is no recess nor edge rebate. Instead, the felt mat is used to support the record, with the fibres of the felt contacting every possible area of the record surface. In combination with the weight of the record itself (Rega do not recommend the use of record weights), the felt interfaces the irregular surface of the record with the smooth, flat surface of the platter for the best contact between the two.
The Collaro seems impervious to the static cling often associated with a felt mat. This has never been a concern for me, presumably as all of my records (old and new) are cleaned with a machine and stored in anti-static sleeves. I have rarely seen a record lift a felt mat from the turntable but have heard many stories of such, and styli falling victim to a lifted mat propelled sidewards by a spinning platter. I never however had the Collaro cling to a record, even when I broke with tradition and played a new record fresh from the wrapper.
But it’s what if anything the Collaro does to the sound that is our key interest here. Regular readers here will know I’m not one to read marketing claim or hype as fact, hence few accessories of this kind ever earn a review. But with the Collaro design based on science rather than impossibly audiophile wizardry (opportunistic profiteering) I made an exception, and I’m glad I did.
Some of the best engineers in this industry, Roy Gandy among them, believe that optimal contact between platter and record is important in the turntable’s ability to accurately ‘measure’ vibration within the groove. To this end, the Collaro mat provides a significant advantage, as the tiny fibres in its thin composition maximise contact without over-damping the platter or the disc, which would impede performance. As a consequence, the record is closer to the unachievable ideal of becoming one with the platter. The result is not subtle yet takes time to appreciate.
The bass is the most noticeable change for the better. It becomes more controlled and a little more lively; a consequence of the loss of the proceeding blur that occurs when the system is over-damped. Surface noise appeared less intrusive, despite the fact that these are 2 of the quietest turntables I have ever heard. I’d imagine this has a lot to do with better record to platter contact allowing faster dissipation of unwanted energy, rather than storing unwanted energy within the record itself or the mat / platter.
Many hi-fi components are designed with an up-front, in your face performance. It sounds impressive in a demo and for a short time of ownership and is touted as an uncoloured sound when it is anything but. Both of the turntables used in this test are designed to come as close to being sonically neutral as possible, the SL-1200G in particular. Glacier has a slight softness and slowness to its presentation owing to being a little over-damped. It’s not unlistenable by any means but it was a shortcoming in my design. The rest of my system is as sonically neutral as possible, besides the room which is intentionally ‘ordinary’ to give a real impression of how components perform in the real world, and frankly because it is a room in a home, not a studio.
The Collaro fits into this system perfectly. When I first heard it I could tell that there was a positive change, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Instead of being a clear improvement in 1 key area, a trait that would usually mean it fell short in other possibly more significant ways, the Collaro improved upon most aspects of playback but the changes were subtle. I put this down to the Collaro’s improvement not being one of wizardry or voodoo science, but one of genuine engineering where its sonic improvement is a direct result of the physical advantage kit gives in the interface between vinyl and platter.
Both turntables benefitted from the Collaro mat. In the case of the 1200G, the rubber mat (or a mat of similar thickness) is required to achieve correct VTA / SRA. Neither are especially important, though without something on the platter the arm can’t drop low enough to stop the cartridge body contacting the record. I found through experimentation that the best result short of DIY fabrication was achieved laying the Collaro mat atop the inverted stock rubber mat, the underside of which is almost perfectly flat.
I was able to improve things further by cutting discs from 5 mm acrylic and Delrin and laying the Collaro mat atop these. A heavy soundproofing rubber sheet works too. It used to be the case with the old Technics, and perhaps to a lesser extent the 1200GR, that the weight of the original mat was considered in the calculations made in designing the speed control feedback loop. Thus changing the mat or adding devices like record weights or clamps could negatively affect the turntable’s speed stability. The 1200G’s speed is read optically and controlled in real-time so reasonable variations in mat weight don’t have any negative effects.
I make my closing statement without wishing to sound snobby or pretentious. If your turntable is a budget model, say £500 and below, your money is better spent elsewhere. Upgrade your cartridge or something downstream in your system, or better yet buy and enjoy some more records. But if you have spent serious cash on your vinyl front end and you’re seeking out the final few tweaks to close on unachievable perfection, treat your deck to a Collaro mat.
I say this as the reviewer who will happily tell you that many if not most turntable accessories and hi-fi accessories in general are worthless shit, cooked up by a bored engineer (or designer with access to a machinist) to make a quick buck. Some of them have stood the test of time and made many bucks from gullible old blokes with more money than sense. But the Collaro mat is not one of these products. It’s a genuinely clever bit of engineering turned out as a fine product that in a good system is well worth the money. It, therefore, earns a deserved recommendation.